Sleep disorders affect millions of Americans and are related to a range of other chronic medical conditions. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has become more common in the United States over the last two decades and may lead to problems with both physical health and cognitive function.

The experienced sleep-medicine specialists affiliated with Memorial Hermann can diagnose and treat sleep apnea to help you get the quality sleep you need. Problems sleeping at night can cause problems performing during the day, creating unhealthy and dangerous conditions for you and those around you. If you are struggling to get good-quality sleep, it’s time to talk to your doctor.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder. With uncontrolled sleep apnea, people stop breathing repeatedly throughout their sleep cycle. Disrupted breathing causes oxygen deprivation, which has negative health effects on many different parts of the body, including the heart and brain.

Snoring is the most common sign of sleep apnea. In addition to snoring, some patients experience other symptoms like awakening during the night while gasping or choking, daytime sleepiness, high blood pressure, headaches, weight gain, depression or anxiety. Sleep apnea can also have a negative impact on a bed partner’s sleep quality.

There are three different types of sleep apnea:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common type. With OSA, the throat muscles collapse while asleep, causing the air passages to narrow and restrict the flow of oxygen. This causes constant interruptions in breathing. When the brain senses this disordered breathing, it sends a signal to the body to wake up in order to get more oxygen.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA)

Central sleep apnea results from a lack of effort in breathing. There are multiple reasons, including cardiac and neurological disorders which may predispose people to central sleep apnea.

Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome

This condition, also called treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, is diagnosed when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

People with disordered breathing due to sleep apnea may experience any of the following:

  • Snoring
  • Choking or gasping for air while sleeping
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Dry mouth

Causes and Risk Factors

The cause of sleep apnea depends on the specific type: OSA, CSA or complex sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by muscles and soft tissue in the throat that relax too much during sleep, causing an obstruction in the airway.

Certain conditions may increase the risk of developing OSA:

Central sleep apnea (CSA) can be caused by multiple reasons, including underlying medical disorders, such as cardiac or neurological conditions. CSA can also be caused by certain medications.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

Because sleep apnea occurs while you are sleeping, it may go undiagnosed. Often, a bed partner reports symptoms like snoring.

Your physician can diagnose sleep apnea by speaking with you about your symptoms and medical history, performing a physical examination and potentially recommending a sleep study. Depending on your specific needs, your physician may suggest either a home sleep test or a nocturnal polysomnogram conducted in a sleep lab.

Home Sleep Test

A home sleep test involves wearing an easy-to-use device overnight that records sleep activity to help diagnose OSA. This noninvasive, painless process includes airflow measurements and wearing sensors on your chest to measure heart rate, breathing patterns and blood-oxygen level while you sleep.

More About Home Sleep Tests

Nocturnal Polysomnogram

This test is considered the “gold standard” overnight sleep study for diagnosing sleep disorders. Patients arrive at the sleep center in the evening and stay overnight in a hospital-type bed. Sensors are attached to monitor various functions, and the results are reviewed by a physician.

Treatment Options for Sleep Apnea

Learn More

Sleep apnea is about more than just being tired. It is a chronic sleep disorder that needs treatment to help prevent or manage other chronic medical conditions. If you are suffering from symptoms like snoring or daytime sleepiness, it is important to see your doctor.

To find out more about sleep disorders or to make an appointment with a sleep specialist, please complete the Contact Us form below.

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